By Zainab Iqbal
Published: November 15th, 2017
Whether or not racial violence is a factor of policing was one of the main topics of debate yesterday at the Gold Room on the sixth floor of the Brooklyn College Student Center.
As per one of the events in the “We Stand Against Hate” Series, Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at BC, debated Heather Mac Donald, a contributing editor of City Journal, on the future of policing. Both are published authors with books corresponding to their viewpoint.
Mac Donald argued that, “however tragic the history of policing and racism in this country, patterns of police shootings today do not demonstrate racial bias.”
Instead, she said, policing today is categorized by two important factors: the incidence of criminal victimization and community demands for assistance.
“It is crime data that sends police to minority neighborhoods in order to save lives,” Mac Donald said on the podium. To understand that, she said, “you have to look at the facts of crime, however uncomfortable it may be to do so.”
She brought up statistics to support her argument that blacks committed more crimes than whites, mostly because of the fact that they were raised without fathers, she said.
“Blacks die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined,” she said.
“This is a problem that gets no recognition by anyone besides the police.” She then stated that blacks are the ones who commit homicides at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined as well.
“A black New Yorker is 50 times more likely to commit a shooting than a white New Yorker,” she said. But why?
“The important fact that I see… is the problem of so many children being raised without fathers. Now there are many heroic single mothers that are doing a fabulous job of raising their kids to be law-abiding citizens, and are working against the odds,” she said. “On average children do need mothers and fathers.”
This caused a bit of mumbling from the dozens of people who showed up. A person in the fourth row even whispered, “Oh, come on.”
“Somehow the main problem is that men are not at home,” Vitale striked back. He argued that police officers are being asked to do more than what they need.
He brought up a quote from David Brown, a Dallas police chief who spoke at a press conference after a sniper shooting killed five officers in 2016.
“Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas we have a loose dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, give it to the cops. 70 percent of the African-American community is being raised by single women, let’s give it to the cops to solve as well. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems,” Vitale quoted Brown.
“Why is it that we have a crumbling mental health infrastructure, and yet the primary service we provide to mentally ill people is the police?” he questioned.
Vitale argued—and Mac Donald agreed—that if a person is having a mental crisis, the police should not be called. Unfortunately, in the U.S., this is exactly what happens. And this plays a big factor in the statistic that a quarter of all people killed by police in this country are mentally ill.
Mac Donald spoke about an individual who was afraid to go to the lobby because people trespassed and smoked weed. So she argued that in that case, more policing would be great.
But Vitale disagreed.
“Let’s get doormen instead,” he said. He supported the idea of looking at concrete things that can be done in the country. Instead of having community policing, he believes targeted interventions should be focused upon.
Vitale also spoke about the black community.
“Black communities are hurting,” he said. “Crime is a really desperate expression of that.”
He then spoke briefly about historic discrimination, such as slavery and Jim Crow laws, but said that instead of looking so far back, one can just look out today and find evidence of discrimination.
“Redlining, ghettoization of northern communities, effects of deindustrialization on northern cities,” he said. “Anytime we do audit studies, anytime we look for discrimination in housing… we find it.”
Race is an important factor in the discussion of the future of policing.
“We can’t have a discussion about short-term changes in employment rates, nor can we have a discussion about the neutral impact of policing without an acknowledgement that we don’t start from an equal basis,” he said.
The 70-minute debate was put forth by two passionate individuals both highly educated on their viewpoints. It was moderated by Professor Robert Cherry of the Economics department. After the debate, the audience had a chance to submit their questions to Cherry, who then read some of them, and allowed Vitale and Mac Donald an opportunity to respond.
“Their [Vitale and Mac Donald’s] concern is to move forward in bettering the lives of people who are affected by policing,” Cherry said.